6 Questions Travelers are Sick of Hearing When they Return Home

February 8, 2015

Rome visit, June 2008 - 57

Stop me if you’ve heard these:

1. “How are you?”

This may just be true for the US, but I’ve noticed foreign visitors have picked up on how often Americans just casually throw this question into the ether. At supermarkets. Passing someone on the street. Beginning a meeting. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad conversation starter at all; we should be interested in another’s state of mind and offer comfort or reciprocation when needed.

However, 99% of the time, in my experience, no one expects a real answer to this question. Imagine if you were to respond to your bank teller’s inquiry with a line of about twenty people behind you: “Oh, it’s been such a rough day. My dog died, I’m withdrawing the last of my money from my account, and I haven’t had a date in months. How are you?”

Even with a positive answer – e.g. “I’m awesome. I just got engaged to this lovely bikini-clad woman to my right and now we’re going to Paris to celebrate. How are you?” – the listener is more likely to be thrown or downright shocked someone would actually give him the information he requested.

2. “Where do you see yourself in the future?”

…or some variation thereof. This has always been my least favorite question, from the moment I first discovered its existence on a college application. Mainly because I can’t see the future and, barring psychic powers, neither can anyone else.

Yes, I’ve been traveling without considering what I may be doing in the coming months or years. No, I’m not setting aside thousands of dollars for a downpayment on a house. But we’re living in a different era, and it’s time the previous generation accept that job security is not a given, needs and desires for a full life are taking precedent over boring stability and certainty, and no one knows where he or she is going to be years down the road. No one.

When I hear any variation of this question, the speaker’s intention seems to be to make me feel bad about not adhering to his or her definition of success and by challenging me, assure that I will choose a 9-to-5 job with a pension if I only thought it through. Fat chance.

3. “Where did you go? How long did you stay? Did you see/go to/do ______? Where are you going next?”

For some people, a vacation is just that: an escape from their real lives. As travelers, our identities are so closely tied to which countries we visit and with whom we spend our time that justifying the time away from others with answers to the above is almost like defending an attack.

Yes, we had the chance to sleep under Hometree and watch the natives commune with Eywa, but reducing that experience to a few choice sentences for someone who may not be capable of imagining a place like Pandora is trivializing not our vacation, but our lives.

The questions don’t change, but your perspective does. Answers that were once unique are mostly a reminder of places you’d rather be. I suppose this is true in all aspects of life, not just among travelers.

4. “Aren’t you lonely?”

Life is about choices. True, many of us aren’t engaged or married not by choice, but I’d venture to say the majority are happy to be single and free to travel whenever the mood strikes. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has visited home only to be accosted by an overly inquisitive mother demanding (well, gently) to know when I’ll be providing grandchildren.

The truth is, travel can be a lonely business. Being reminded of the dating and relationship challenges we face by choosing an itinerant lifestyle is invasive and highly insulting: we KNOW things may be tricky down the road if we don’t start building the foundation of a life that will attract the kind of people our parents want us to date. However, they’re not the ones who get to choose our life partners. And because we both will probably travel together, our chemistry is that much more likely to make us happier and healthier.

5. “Wasn’t it dangerous?”

Despite what the mainstream media at large tries to sell to unwitting masses huddled under blankets on couches consuming Hot Pockets, the world is not as dangerous as it seems… at least on an individual level. Certainly, North Korea is not a thing with which to be trifled, and people do get attacked and violated in areas known for their crime rates. But they also do at home where everything is supposed to be safe and filled with sunshine and lollipops. The point is, if you choose to be afraid, you can find danger everywhere.

6. Local issues

This can range from the reasonable – “are you going to vote in the next election for governor?” – to the absurd, e.g. “did you hear they’re installing speed bumps on our street?” In either case, the speaker seems to be very unaware that as travelers, we’re constantly on the move and don’t really empathize with politics at the local level or petty concerns (at least, from our perspective) that seem to drive a lot of our countrymen. For my own part, I keep up to date with events on the national level, but when someone asks me if I’ll do my part to elect a city councilmen, I’m tempted to just laugh in his face.

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